Worship Leaders Take Note: Why the Church Struggles With Music

Whenever I think of live music, there are two events in my life that come to mind. The first, was a birthday event for the French record label Ed Banger. For those who know me well, they’ll know I like my modern electronica – especially that of french duo Justice. With a hideous number of plays in my iTunes library and scrobbles abound on Last.fm, when the opportunity to see them live came along that summer, I couldn’t resist. I never would have forgiven myself. The second of these memorable music moments was just last year, when I was fortunate enough to secure a ticket to Paul Simon at Hard Rock Calling. As part of celebrations for the 25 year anniversary since the release of Graceland, we were treated to a mammoth set consisting of Graceland in its entirety, as well as some other of his defining tracks. Amazing. Really, just amazing.

Both of these gigs were thoroughly excellent examples of music. One being vastly technical and quite frankly, an assault on the senses – the second a showcase of master musicians and melodies that catch your breath and stop you dead. Both excellent and yet vastly different. Or should I say, they’re both excellent in my opinion and equally so. However, do I really think that all those at the Ed Banger event would feel the same? No! Nor would I assume the Paul Simon fans last summer have a desperate love for bass-heavy electronica, no! (That one I am very certain of.) Our engineering is such that we will never all have the same interests, we’re just not designed to be that way. Large numbers of people, similar interests, different tastes.

And it is the same for the church. Those who have been in a church of late, or ever for that matter, will be aware that a good portion of time is spent in musical worship. (Please note; I clearly define as ‘musical worship’ for the reason that as Christians, everything that is done is to be a form of  active worship. Though that is a big post for another time.) And things can really vary from church to church, I’m sure you’ll agree. Whether it is the crackling keyboard of the village hall, the booming Wurlitzer organ of a cathedral or the tight production values of a thriving city church, it is all to someone’s taste. Regardless of what you think, at least one person in that room rates it.

But is that a good thing? As Christians, is our focus in the wrong place? Do we take our example of what good musical worship is by what our example of good music is. Top production values, fine equipment and a ‘Grade 10 only’ approach to our musicians can be found in some churches, with liturgy-filled Common Worship services in others. It’s not the instruments or production value we should be looking towards however, it is God. Two quick points to think about:

1. Does our musical worship point towards who God is?

When it comes to choosing the songs that are sung in church, music directors are quite frankly spoilt for choice. This however, does not mean that they’re all good choices. In all forms of worship, a Christian needs to be exemplifying and explaining who God is, not just that they believe he exists. Not just that, but our worship needs to point to God in his fullness – that is Father, Son and Spirit. An example of songwriters who write in this way would be Stuart Townend or Keith Getty – their tracks aren’t the catchiest but lyrically they do a sterling job. The oldest of hymns and freshly penned songs alike can be guilty of not actually doing this it all. They fail to build up the church by declaring why the Gospel is such good news and what response we should have. I would firmly challenge any musical director/worship leader who chooses a song for its musical or technical merits. It’s unhelpful and fails to acknowledge the point of musical worship.

2. Does our worship come from the heart?

With the first point in mind however, sometimes it is not the choice of music that is the issue but the source of it. Whether leading the band or joining the congregation – our musical worship can only be justified and is only genuine if done from the heart. Despite the song sheets, piano and staging; please don’t be fooled into thinking you’re part of some false musical or act. It is right for us to practise as a band and look to improve our musical gifts but don’t let this rehearsal run through into the real thing. I’d go one step further to say that don’t exclude any practise time from your personal worship either – just because the service hasn’t started doesn’t mean that you can’t praise your creator. We may as well abandon all worship if there is not a committed and personal perspective placed into it. It might be the mouth singing it, but it is the heart that must be declaring it.

By both recognising God and doing so from the heart we actually exemplify the true meaning of worship. Whether music is performed through a Fender or a fog-horn, it is all for nothing if we’re not faithfully focussing on the goodness of the Gospel.

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